Friday, May 13, 2011

Hack The Planet . . . , Or At Least Your Phone

I recently read an article that discussed how Android was losing its “hackability” and I must admit that at first glance I might have agreed, but in a very short time several things have happened that make me think that Android users are on the brink of something truly revolutionary in user control.

I admit that things looked pretty dismal for a bit. HTC’s G2 was released with some wonky lockdown method. Stories of Motorola’s DroidX booting into recovery if a custom ROM was attempted. Motorola’s Atrix bootloader lockdown. And the final straw, Google’s announcement that they would not release the Honeycomb source code. (See my discussion on Google’s decision here.) I too thought all was lost, but then a company that has been a relatively weak player in the Android handset market changed the game.

Sony Ericsson released a statement that their phones would not have a locked bootloader if the customer bought the product outright. Then, to prove their new found acceptance of the Android dev communitiy SE offered a tutorial on how to unlock their phones and build a kernel. Motorola followed suit, in response to an online poll, with an announcement that none of their future phones would have a locked bootloader. LG released the G2X and G-Slate with unlocked bootloaders. Google announced that they will release Ice Cream Sandwich source code and that the Nexus S is the most open device on the market, near completely open--save a few proprietary drivers. Regarding the Nexus S’ maker, Samsung, their devices are ridiculously hackable and nearly impossible to brick. Samsung devices use a proprietary tool named Odin that allows users to flash new ROMs on to their phones as well as return to factory stock. Finally, today while installing the Amazon Cloud Player on to the Xoom I saw that Amazon made edits to its code to make it more compatible with CyanogenMod 7!

These examples show a staggering resolve on the part of hardware companies and corporations to allow the consumers, who spend a great deal of money on devices, to have root access. There are, however, real concerns that need answering, such as: Should one root, warranties and support, and economic impact and billing. The Android community should be politely aware that every company has an economic interest and without taking care of that interest the company ceases to exist. That said, it seems as though the hardware companies and corporations are not the threat the community original thought they were, but need to focus on the real threat to openess, which is carriers. Carriers are going to fight this (especially AT&T who has a special dislike for hacking . . . and sideloading . . . and data use . . . and fair prices . . . and the truth . . ., moreover, Verizon has not commented on Motorola having unlockable bootloaders, but rest assured they will have something to say about it) and the community needs to show support for carriers, and hardware companies as well, that allow openness to prevail. Consider SE, LG, Samsung, and Moto first as they are showing their support for open. Consider T-Mobile over another carrier as T-Mobile has continually supported the dev community (unless AT&T buys them, then head to Sprint as they are also supportive, albeit less so).

In sum, the development is not ending any time soon. The Android Dev community is the strongest there is and they can wade through a lot of junk to expose some really nice phones and devices. Make sure to support those companies and carriers, but most of all--Support the Devs themselves. Go to the forums and hit the donate button for your favorites. They work incredibly hard to get the job done and make things easier for all of su.  


As always, all of the information you need to do your own research is below. I encourage you to look up the sources and read the stories for yourself, leave a comment here if you have something to say, and follow my Twitter (@GhostWriterv9) and the social networking pages of the person's involved so that you can get a diverse take on the story.



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